My Return
To Hanoi...
Some of the water puppets in action.
December 15, 2007

As if I didn’t already have a rocky start to coming back into Vietnam by not having my visa until ten minutes before our plane
took off…

But that, at least, I can take full responsibility for.

When got into Hanoi and all seemed well. I was just anxious to get into the city since Elisa only had a matter of hours here
tonight. We found a taxi driver (or I should say ‘he found us’) and his first price was $10 US. I offered up $8 (as I have learned
never to go along with the first price they quote) and he agreed. We were on our way.

Now here’s where I had a couple reservations: 1) a friend of his was coming along and 2) it was a regular car (not a taxi). But I’
ve seen far weirder things and everything seemed fine. The driver didn’t do much talking but the passenger could not stop
talking and laughing with us. Then we got to a toll road. The passenger told us we needed to give him 200,000 dong for the toll
and that this was
in addition to the $8 (keep in mind that $8 is equal to 120,000 dong). I quickly turned on him and told him
there was no way we were paying the toll…let alone 200,000 dong for it. He kept a smile on his face and proceeded to talk to
us. But now I was suspicious and I knew we had more in store for us.

And we did.

When we arrived in the Old Quarter, they tried stopping somewhere telling us it was our hotel. They were clearly meeting up
with a friend of theirs to try to take us to his establishment. It was too bad for them that I had been to Hanoi before and I
knew that we were not near our hotel. By this point I was far from done with politeness and I barked for them to take us to our
hotel. And now they were driving us in circles. But I finally saw the name of our street. Relief.

But only for a few minutes.

Things were looking fishy again when they told us they had to drop us off a couple blocks from our hotel - especially
considering the amount of baggage we had. From this point forward we didn’t hear another peep out of the guy in the
passenger seat – now it was the driver’s turn to talk. When I handed the dong to the driver, he was insisting that we pay him
another $20. I realized now that ‘Good cop, bad cop’ is an international thing. Here was the glitch – he had all of the control in
this situation. After all, our bags were being held hostage in his trunk. It was pure luck that there happened to be two of us (as
if I was traveling on my own, I wouldn’t have had too many options). I told Elisa to wait in the taxi and I went to the hotel and
grabbed the guy that worked there. I told him we were getting screwed and I needed someone who spoke Vietnamese. He
came and there was some dialogue (if only I could understand Vietnamese!). The trunk was opened and I grabbed the bags as
quickly as I could. I went directly to the hotel. Phew. But then there was no Elisa behind me. I went back to the scene of it all
and he was not letting Elisa have her bags. I wasn’t having this. I let loose like I haven’t to anyone before (with the exception of
my sister). I was yelling at the top of my lungs dropping the f-bomb at every chance possible. I used it as a noun, verb and
adjective – and probably in other ways I don’t even realize. My tactic was to make this as difficult for him as possible and to
eventually deem it as not worth any more of his time. Of course he also understood the English word ‘police’ which was helpful
for me. Minutes later when I told him where he could stick that $20 that he wasn’t getting, he finally let us go.

I believe my exact words to Elisa were “I need some wine.” I was already able to laugh about it since we won the battle of Two
American Girls vs. Two Vietname Dick-head Taxi Drivers.

Now we could hit up Hanoi.

Everything was just as I remembered. We ended up being able to get some Water Puppet Show tickets. But before the show
we had many hours to spare. Our first stop was dinner at a restaurant across from the lake called Restaurant Bobby Chinn.
Once there, I would learn the he does a travel food show on the Discovery Channel that I watched while we were in Saigon.
The guy is absolutely adorable! Oh. But back to the restaurant. Everything was superb from the second we arrived (a fresh
spring roll with duck as an amuse bouche and some excellent focaccia-type bread) till we were done with our meal (which
ended with a complimentary small chocolate cannelloni with the restaurant’s name written in chocolate). While my meal was
fab (blackened barramundi on top of cooked banana flower blossoms), Elisa’s ‘small Asian sampler’ was the clear winner. The
atmosphere was great – complete with a lounge to smoke hookahs (fitting considering Bobby Chinn is half-Egyptian, half-
Chinese). On our walk back to the Old Quarter, Elisa kept expressing her new wanting of a man named Bobby Chinn.
According to the bartender he lives in San Francisco. So there is hope.

We did some lacquerware shopping while waiting to head to the Water Puppet Theatre. Both of us picked up some purchases –
the girl is going to have quite a stash to take with her to the airport tomorrow. She seems up for the challenge. We were getting
too carried away and realized that our puppet show was starting in five minutes.

The puppet show was as I remembered it – though it felt a bit longer. It kind of reminded me of ‘It’s a Small World’ at
Disneyland how it seems to just keep going on and on and on. But I didn’t mind it. In fact, I thought it was one of the best ways
to spend $1.50. Elisa agreed. It seemed like she enjoyed her time in Hanoi.

December 16, 2007

Elisa had a choice between seeing Ho Chi Minh’s body or going shopping for her final hour in Hanoi. Any takers on what she
opted for?

We scoured the Old Quarter for the last lacquerware items she was craving and then it was time to pack them up and put her
in a taxi. So sad. I wasn’t ready to see her go. Once I saw her taxi take her away, I found a motorbike driver to take me to see
Mr. Minh’s body. And this would be the first time I would have to equip myself with a helmet (as a new law has now gone into
play since the time we were in Hoi An).

The line moved very quickly and Ho Chi Minh looked like he was sleeping. The mausoleum was a beautiful marble structure
complete with one side bearing the hammer-and-sickle and the other side bearing the red star. Nobody is in there for longer
than a minute – but it is still quite a sight to see the actual body of someone who is such a part of world history (I remember
feeling the same way about seeing Lenin’s body in Moscow).

I spent my last few hours in this city at the Sofitel Metropole taking part in their ‘high tea’ that comes with one of my most
beloved things in the world – the chocolate buffet! I did this last year and there was no way I couldn’t partake in it again. Since
I have now done all of the sights here and I can no longer go shopping (as my ‘exporters’ have already left for San Francisco), I
felt justified in doing this. Especially since I am about to head off to board my overnight train to Sapa…
Back to Vietnam.
In case the need for a tombstone arises.
The outside of Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum.